ST. PETERSBURG — She is a player who performs feats so dramatic they seem too good to be true.
But Jerica Coley is the real thing.
The junior guard is the reason St. Petersburg Catholic is in the region semifinals for the fifth straight season. Her performance against Sarasota Cardinal Mooney in last week's quarterfinals was just the latest case in point. In that game, Coley scored 32 and grabbed 18 rebounds to go along with eight steals and six assists.
"Jerica has exceeded expectations in terms of how much she has been able to do," SPC coach Nick Vandewalle said. "I knew we would rely on her to score. I just didn't know she would be able to score that much."
Last season, Coley played in the shadow of Sasha Chaplin, a 6-foot-2 post player who led the Barons in scoring three straight seasons and was the Times' all-county player of the year. Coley's role then was to be a second whirling dervish for opponents to consider.
But Chaplin graduated. That meant Coley had to be an every-night dynamo as she tried to fit her Ferrari game in with a fleet of Saturns.
Coley has not disappointed, averaging a county-best 21 points this season.
"I think the biggest difference is I have a lot more responsibility to score and providing leadership," Coley said.
There is not much Coley cannot do with the ball. She has a heartbeat-quick crossover and can wrap the ball around her body at warp speed before she decides whether to pass or shoot.
"Jerica can make a steal and take it in for a layup with no problem," Vandewalle said. "She has the ability to just blow past people."
But like any leading lady, Coley has had help from her supporting cast. The other Barons have done their part to aid one of the county's best players, whether it is corralling a crucial rebound, playing drape-cloth defense or diving for loose balls.
"We're not going to score 70 points a night as a team," Vandewalle said. "We've needed everybody to step up, and they have. We're playing good, fundamental defensive basketball."
St. Petersburg Catholic will need that kind of effort tonight to get past Tampa Catholic, which has won all three meetings this season.
"I think we'll need to slow the game to our tempo and make sure everybody is contributing," Coley said.
Still, when a scoring punch is needed, Coley will be there, battling defenders intent on denying her an open look.
"I'll just have to keep playing hard and do more work," Coley said.